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3D printed lithophanes

So I’ve been working on something pretty neat to go alongside my oil painting for the upcoming group exhibition The Alternative Archive: Common Ground. Check out my lithophanes, now illuminated from the back by a custom-made shelf with integrated lighting.

Using traditional and contemporary approaches, I’ve been creating pieces that explore the stories of my grandparents, Aukje Schots and Johan Smid, who migrated from the Netherlands to Western Australia aboard the SS Waterman in 1952. Though I work across various mediums I considers myself primarily a painter with a strong interest in portraiture. Having said that, I’m intrigued by the possibilities of creating art using innovative technologies such as 3D printing, and for this project I have painted a portrait in oils accompanied by a series of 3D printed lithophanes, which reveal glimpses into my grandparents’ journey and into subsequent moments of their lives as they lived in the Narrogin area.

A lithophane is a three-dimensional model which appears blank until illuminated from behind, at which point an engraved or embossed image emerges with an ethereal glow, changing according to the intensity and quality of the light striking it. The thickness of each area of the lithophane determines the amount of light that can pass through, the thinnest areas appearing the lightest. Traditional lithophanes date back to the 1800s and were etched or moulded out of thin porcelain. For this project, I have sourced images from family collections of photographs and from online archives of migration documents, transposing them into a series of delicate and finely detailed 3D printed lithophanes. Each image is labelled with a copy of the handwriting from the back of its original photograph, and its contents only revealed when held to the light.

Born in 1928, Aukje migrated across the world at age 23 to start a new life in a foreign country with Johan and their three children at the time.

I’m currently not much older than that myself and can scarcely imagine undertaking a journey of that magnitude into the unknown. Many of Aukje’s stories and recollections are unrecorded but for what she has already relayed to us and, as she now suffers from dementia, are perhaps at risk of being lost to future generations. I chose to paint her portrait with the intention of capturing a moment of wistful recollection over a cup of tea, exploring the transitory nature of memories and personal histories.


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